Friday, January 2, 2015

When the Big Guy at the Gym Says You’re Doing it Right

In other words, how not to look like a hot mess in front of strangers. 

Introverts that we are, Char and I can be pretty shy around strangers, especially when working out. It isn’t the lack of clothing or tightness of our outfits. We can wear as much or as little as we want. I’ve been cycling long enough that I can sport a pair of short shorts with the best of them. But every weight we lift, every lap we swim or run, is a form of evaluation in a very public setting. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, or thinking that they are judging us, by our performance, by our fitness or physique, even by the cut of our workout gear.

However, once we’ve been going to a gym for a while, we’re both pretty comfortable with our routines and self-image. Even when strangers show up, we’re not intimidated ‘cause we’re the regulars.

Last week, we found ourselves at a new gym in Charla’s hometown that’s in the city recreation center (with a swimming pool and ice skating rink). She’d been many times as a kid growing up, but never to the gym side of the building.

We were working our way through the weights and machines, finding some things we were familiar with and some we weren’t.

I had just started a set of clusters, a combination of cleans, jerks, and thrusters. It’s something I’ve never been really good at and am still learning how to do properly.

I was in mid exercise when he appeared.

Most gyms have at least one, like him. Some have several.

He’s huge, shaped like an upside down triangle. He looks like the beasts that barely resemble human genetic projects that you see on magazines or bottles of protein shakes.

Yeah, she's a beast.
And he knows what he’s doing.

You see, we’re in his world, his universe, and he’s the king. He lifts everyday, several times a day, and has been lifting heavy objects since before we could lift a milk bottle to our lips. He’s tried every supplement, been to that shady dealer in Mexico, and laughs when you talk about the benefits of Crossfit and Paleo as he contemplates his steak and bourbon dinner waiting for him in his Viking-esque cabin of a home that’s really a shrine to his weight-lifting career.

He’d snuck up behind me, mid squat. I tried not to notice, play it cool, like I was a pro. Like I knew what I was doing.

I told myself to ignore the paltry excuse for weight I had on the bar, to focus on my form and just try really hard not to embarrass myself in front of the inverted mountain of iron standing behind me, contemplating breaking my body in half for violating his temple of steel.

He watched for a while.

As a former workout companion once told
me, "We do bicep curls for the ladies!"
His eyes felt like the fires of the forge of Valhalla, and I was sure that at any moment a deep rumble would emanate from his chest, and I would hear those dreaded words, “You’re doing it wrong.”

A single bead of sweat trickled down my face, maybe it was a tear, I don’t remember.  He watched me for about three or four repetitions, but it felt like much longer.

Then he nodded his head slowly, approvingly, and walked on.

Elation, pure excitement and satisfaction filled my chest. I had gained approval from the walking human anvil. My dignity and gym privileges intact and sanctified.

Twenty minutes later he was showing Char and I some new moves on a lateral pull-down machine, like we were part of the “in-crowd.” Not bad for a couple of scrawny out-of-towners.